We've written several times before about domestic spying being performed by the government agencies, most of which is performed under the protective guise of "national security" as part of the "War on Terror." The end result tends to be diminished rights rather than something more positive, like "terrorists caught."
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has been looking into the CIA's involvement in domestic surveillance, something the CIA is definitely not supposed to be doing.
Beginning in 2011, a series of investigative articles by the Associated Press ("AP") revealed that the New York Police Department ("NYPD") conducted extensive surveillance of Muslims and persons of Arab descent in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere. The NYPD’s activities included photographing members of the Muslim community as they entered mosques, infiltrating Muslim student groups, and monitoring Muslim stores and businesses. According to the AP, the “police subjected entire neighborhoods to surveillance and scrutiny, often because of the ethnicity of the residents, not because of any accusations of crimes.” The AP also reported, “many of these operations were built with help from the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency], which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD's intelligence unit after 9/11.”
This looks like the CIA is at the very least heavily involved with domestic surveillance, if not actually doing the surveillance itself. The "investigations" themselves are questionable enough even without the possibility of a departmental "misstep" by the CIA, generally consisting of paid informants infiltrating the Muslim community and amassing as much information as possible when not attempting to bait community members into saying something inflammatory.
This new "elite" NYPD agency has been given leeway to assemble a massive database on the Muslim community and its activities and, to date, has produced nothing in the way of useful leads. Despite this fact, the operations continue undeterred and everyone from the NYC police commissioner to various CIA spokespersons have acknowledged the CIA's ongoing "collaborative relationship" with the NYPD domestic spying program.
According to the CIA, the agency isn't performing the surveillance itself and is, therefore, staying within its legal boundaries.
In December 2011 the Associated Press described an investigation by the CIA Inspector General regarding the agency’s collaboration with NYPD. CIA spokesman Preston Golson acknowledged the existence of this investigation and stated that the agency's Inspector General concluded that no laws were broken and there was “no evidence that any part of the agency's support to the NYPD constituted 'domestic spying.”
In essence, the CIA aids with the spying, but doesn't actually perform the spying. Golson's statement in reference to the internal investigation is obviously meant to be the final word on the matter, but relies heavily on the public's credulity in regards to secretive agencies conducting in-house investigations whose results remain hidden from view. In that respect, Golson's statement failed miserably.
According to USA Today, “The revelations troubled some members of Congress and even prompted the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, to remark that it did not look good for the CIA to be involved in any city police department. Thirty-four lawmakers have asked for the Justice Department to investigate but so far that request has gone nowhere.” At a March 2012 hearing, Attorney General Holder told Congress “he's disturbed by what he's read about the New York Police Department conducting surveillance of mosques and Islamic student organizations in New Jersey.”
You know something has gone wrong when Eric Holder thinks you've gone too far. Golson's "everything's cool" statement notwithstanding, EPIC decided to look into the CIA's involvement with the NYPD's surveillance programs.
On March 28, 2012, EPIC submitted a FOIA request to CIA asking for:
- All documents related to the CIA Inspector General’s investigation regarding the agency’s collaboration with NYPD;
- All legal analyses conducted by the CIA Inspector General’s office regarding the CIA’s collaboration with the NYPD;
- All final reports issued as a result of the CIA Inspector General’s investigation;
- Any communications between the CIA Inspector General’s office and the NYPD regarding the agency’s collaboration with the NYPD.
Unsurprisingly, the CIA has been rather reluctant to hand over any of the requested information. So reluctant, in fact, that it now finds itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit filed by EPIC after "failing to disclose a single record." EPIC's complaint quotes the CIA as stating it was too busy to fulfill the requests because of a "substantial backlog." While that could very well be true, this is also information that the CIA would very likely prefer to not make public. It's also an excuse many other government agencies have used -- a built-in stalling tactic greatly aided by these agencies' preference towards only giving up information when forced to do so.
Obviously, it will be a long time before any information shakes loose from this internal investigation. EPIC still has to win the lawsuit before any "compelled" release of documents begins. There's also bound to be an appeal or two, along with the usual bureaucratic delays built into the process. And there's also the "state secret" wildcard, one that permanently removes documents from the public eye. Still, it's a worthwhile effort EPIC is making, one that will shed light on a very shady collaboration between the CIA and the NYPD, whether or not the results of this internal investigation are ever made public.
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